How long will it take Italy to reclaim their position among the top 3 leagues in Europe? And will Germany overtake Spain in the UEFA Rankings?

Last season was Serie A’s last among the top 3 "superleagues" of Europe, at least as per UEFA... few had the courage to admit what was almost a mathematical certainty over a year ago, as explained in my article last year...

For me, now the key question now is how long will Germany be able to hold on to the 3rd spot, and whether they will displace Spain as number 2 league in Europe! But more on that later... first let’s take a look at how UEFA Coefficients work...


UEFA Coefficients Explained...

As you may have heard, if Bayern had beaten Inter in the CL final in 2010, Germany would have already overtaken Italy in UEFA Ranking and we would be seeing only 3 Italian teams in the CL in the 2011-12 season... that bit is true. This is how the UEFA Coefficient rankings looked like at the end of 2009-10*:

 

*UEFA Coefficients have been rounded off to 2 decimal points for simplicity (in reality, 3 decimal points are considered)


To understand this a bit better, lets first understand how the UEFA Coefficients work. UEFA awards points or coefficients to clubs depending on the results they achieve in UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League games. Two points are awarded for each win by a club, and one for a draw. Bonus points are awarded for qualifying for the Champions League group phase (4 points), reaching the second round of the Champions League (5 points), and reaching the quarter, semi and final of either the Champions League or the Europa League (1 point).

A league’s coefficients for a season are just the average of the coefficients achieved by its clubs that season ie the total number of points awarded in a season to say Italian clubs is divided by the number of Italian teams that participated in that season. UEFA coefficients rankings consider the total of coefficients earned over the last 5 season period, so the 2010 League coefficients (as shown in the above pic) were just the sum of coefficients over the last 5 years (2005-06 to 2009-10).

These UEFA coefficient rankings are important because they determine how many teams from that nation qualify for European competitions. For example, the top 3 nations as per the 2010 UEFA Coefficient Rankings (England, Spain & Italy) are allowed 4 teams in the 2011-12 Champions League. Which is why Inter’s win over Bayern in the CL final was so critical for Serie A... if Inter has lost, you can easily see from the above table that Germany (64.21 + 2/6 = 64.54) would have overtaken Italy (64.34 – 2/7 = 64.05) in the rankings. That would have happened also in case of a draw after extra time (wins via penalty shootouts are not counted towards results).


Mathematical Certainty...

Now let’s analyze last season, and why we were so sure that Italy will lose their place to Germany. You may have noticed the big problem from Italy’s point of view if you compare the coefficients of Italy and Germany in 2005-06 (in the previous table). There was a gap of 4.9 coefficient points, a gap which went out of the consideration set for 2011 UEFA rankings. To make the matters worse, Italy did much worse than Germany last season (2010-11). So the 2011 rankings ended up looking like this:

 

 

Germany are already almost 9 points ahead of Italy, which includes the over 4 points they gained last season. This may take quite a few years to claw back.  To make the matters worse for Italy, in the 2012 rankings, Italy will lose 2.43 points more to Germany, as the 2006-07 results will no longer be in play. That means Italy needs to get 11 points over Germany before they win back the number 3 spot.

It is a bit odd, when you consider that Italians have won 2 Champions League titles in this same 5 year period, while the Germans have won none. But this leap in ranking for Germany is a reward for their consistency in Europa League. And perhaps a punishment for Italy as some of their clubs are guilty of not taking UEFA’s secondary competition with the required seriousness. Case in point Napoli last season, when they rested some of their top stars (Hamsik, Lavezzi, etc) in the Europa League game against Steaua Bucharest only to go 3-0 behind. Napoli did so because their main objective was to finish top 4 in Serie A and qualify for the Champions League, which they did.

Life is not without its sense of irony, because that point they lost in that game made a contribution to Italy losing their 4th CL spot. Napoli may have gained CL qualification this season, but at what cost to Serie A?


Future Observations...

So the next few seasons are a battleground between Italy and Germany in Europe. It’s a question of whether Italy can make a quick recovery, like I said, the big question is how long will Germany be able to retain the 3rd place once they achieve it. Let’s analyse the future, and as an aid, I present the 2012 Rankings as they stand today:

 

 

I would like to point out at this juncture that the above table is missing one season (2011-12) of UEFA Coefficients, so there is some uncertainty in predictions (depending upon how the next season unfolds)... That out of the way, I have a few observations:

1. England look more than comfortable on their top spot for the next few years at the very least.

2. Historically if you look at the top 3 nations, their 4th Champions League team does not earn too many points. This is even more significant if you take England out. So Germany’s elevation may cost them a few points as it is more difficult to earn these points in Champions League as opposed to Europa League.

3. Also, having 7 teams in Europe (instead of the current 6) may turn out to be a curse as far as the UEFA Coefficients are concerned, as the denominator increases... From 2012-13, Germany’s total points will be divided by 7, while Italy’s will be divided by 6. Considering the fact that the 7th team from the top 3 nations usually pulls down the average by almost 2 points, that may play a significant role. 

4. So I predict that Germany will not stay over Italy for more than 3 seasons (at most), after which Italy will regain their place. One reason for this is because Italy will start gaining points on Germany from 2013 ranking onwards, when 2006-07 points go out of the 5 year consideration set – this works out to be about 7 points in next 3 season. Add to that the impact of point 2 & 3 above, I suspect it will be over 4 points. My analysis shows that Italy will regain their third spot in the 2015 rankings, ie they will once again have 4 CL teams in 2016-17 season.

5. Spain may be pulled into this battle as well... It is clear from the above table how key were the CL runs of their top two clubs. If for example both Real and Barca had lost in the CL quarters last season, Spain would have lost around 4 coefficient points for that season. That would have resulted in Germany overtaking Spain in the 2011 Rankings! Because of these points last season, I believe Spain’s position is safe for a while. However, outside of their top 2, Spain have been losing some strength in depth over the last few seasons. If this trend continues, they could drop down the rankings. Spain need the likes of Sevilla, Valencia, Atletico, Villareal, or maybe Malaga to make their presence felt in the next few seasons.

So Serie A lost the battle for coefficients last season, and it may take them till 2016-17 to claim back their 4th CL qualification spot. It will be an interesting 3-4 seasons to watch how this battle between Europe top leagues unfolds...